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So-called NQ border is just pie in the sky, says Premier


Annastacia Palaszczuk is resisting calls to close off north Queensland to protect more isolated communities from the novel coronavirus.

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Several federal LNP members in Queensland, outspoken crossbencher Bob Katter and some community representatives have called on the Palaszczuk Government to effectively close off north Queensland to visitors.

The government has already restricted access to Queensland from NSW, South Australia and the Northern Territory – motorists without a valid reason for visiting will be turned away from tomorrow – while traditional movements in the Torres Strait have been put on hold indefinitely. Non-essential travel within the state has also been banned, and air travel is also limited.

While there is no actual north Queensland border, there has been speculation council boundaries could be used to impose further regional restrictions, given some individual councils and remote Indigenous communities have been able to restrict access.

After Katter paid for a plane to drag a protest banner above Brisbane on Wednesday, putting the issue in the national spotlight, Palaszczuk told Nine’s Today program that shutting off north Queensland was not an option.

“There’s no invisible border, we are a united state and we’re uniting against COVID-19,” Palaszczuk said this morning.

A fourth Queenslander has died of COVID-19 as the number of cases in the state rose by 57 overnight to 835, with 60 of those people currently in hospital. Authorities are cautiously optimistic that restrictions on public gatherings and movement have so far slowed the outbreak.

Palaszczuk spoke to the morning television programs ahead of a disaster committee meeting and emphasised Queensland had responded strongly and proactively in the face of a pandemic.

“Our remote Indigenous communities are the high risk, so we’ve essentially locked them down,” Palaszczuk said.

“What I’ve said to the mayors is everyone must stay in their state, stay in their region, and stay in their suburb as much as possible. It’s a very simple message and if everyone does this we’ll get through it.”

Health Minister Steven Miles extended his condolences to the family of the latest Queensland victim of COVID-19, an 85-year-old man who died in Toowoomba hospital. He was the third death in Queensland, with a fourth Queenslander dying interstate.

“Each of these deaths reminds us of just how important our effort to stop the spread of this outbreak, to slow the spread of this outbreak, is,” Miles said.

“The longer we can slow it the better our hospitals will be able to cope with demand, the more lives our doctors and nurses and health staff will be able to save. That is what is at stake here.”

Miles was visiting Cairns with Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young who reassured locals the hospital intensive care unit was well-equipped and prepared for any COVID-19 cases, including indigenous patients having to be airlifted from remote communities.

“We have a fantastic ICU here,” Young said.

“They have all of their systems in place so I know they’ll manage those cases.”

Miles was asked about calls for north Queensland to be further isolated and said, “we’ve already effectively isolated all of Queensland”. He appeared to accused federal MPs of politicking on the issue.

“While I understand there’s some folk around who are seeing an opportunity for a stunt, that’s not really appropriate here,” the Minister told reporters in Cairns.

“The response to this has been very, very strong. As the Chief Health Officer said yesterday, there’s no need to create a new border when we’ve effectively put a border at the front door of every house in Queensland.”

Miles said nine COVID-19 patients were in intensive care across Queensland. Of the 24 COVID-19 cases recorded in the Cairns region so far, all were recovering at home, while 1432 of the 45,000 quarantine orders were also in the region.

The Minister said no Queensland Health workers had contracted COVID-19 on the job. Young said there had been reports in NSW and Victoria of health workers contracting COVID-19 from patients however they weren’t wearing protective equipment at the time.

Young, Miles and Palaszczuk insisted Queensland Health had an adequate supply of protective equipment for staff.

Social distancing helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus and keep pressure off hospitals, where staff are taking further precautions in the hope a vaccine will one day bring the pandemic to an end.

Palaszczuk said the outbreak was far from over. Asked about people still flocking to Gold Coast beaches, the Premier said she anticipated tighter restrictions to be imposed by councils and enforced by police.

“We are going to have to crack down because social distancing means 90 per cent of people have to be doing the right thing,” Palaszczuk said.

“Going to the beach with all of your friends and mates is not on.”

As governments also respond to the unfolding economic crisis, Palaszczuk today confirmed 2.5 per cent Queensland public service pay rises were “on hold” and the national cabinet would discuss any other stimulus measures.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will give an update this afternoon.

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